Sunday, 26 October 2014

Talking Buts, Butts and Buttes

When out and about giving talks, particularly those on the subject of place names, I often encounter a local name which will invariably lead to a minor disagreement between the speaker and the audience. Having regularly failed to convince many of the origin of this as a minor place name or, more often, a field name transferred to a street name when the area was developed, I thought an examination of the various buts, butts, and buttes might prove of interest.

As a place or field name it is often thought to be a reminder of where archers had honed their skills. Sunday morning church could be missed by men who were practicing with the bow and arrow. Locals enjoy such a story. It shows fellow villagers, possibly even ancestors, were patriotic and ready to answer the call to arms to fight for what was right. Sadly it is almost never right.

Here we shall look not only at why it is nothing to do with archery and at the correct derivation, but (pun intended) at all the other uses and spellings and respective origins thereof. Three spellings, those given in the title, and surprisingly more than twenty-five different uses of but, butt and butte.

1. But - as in ‘nevertheless’ comes from Germanic be’by’ and utana ‘outside’.

2. But – as in ‘on the contrary’ and sharing the etymology of 1.

3. But – when preceding the word ‘can’ and used to refer to an exception and sharing the etymology of 1.

4. But – used instead of the much lengthier ‘without the result that’ as in “It never rains but it pours” and sharing the etymology of 1.

5. But – as used when interrupting the speaker’s train of thought as in “There is no chance of rain ….. but is that a cloud I see?” and sharing the etymology of 1.

6. But – as in ‘however’ and used such as “Did not want to, but.” and sharing the etymology of 1.

7. But – as in ‘who not’ and used as “There is not a man but feels pity” and sharing the etymology of 1.

8. But – as in an objection (when it can also be used in the plural as in the phrase “But me no buts”) and sharing the etymology of 1.

9. But – as in ‘an outer room’, a new one on me, and apparently from the Scandinavian meaning “outside”. Most often this is used of a humble two-roomed cottage described as a ‘but and ben’. Again this clearly shares an etymology with 1.

10. Butt – as in ‘to push with the head’ comes from Proto-Germanic butan, itself from Proto-Indo-European bhau, and meaning ‘to strike’. This has also provided us with the verb ‘to batter’.

11. Butt – as in ‘abut’ and a reference to adjoining ends, particularly flat ends.

12. Butt – as when used with the word ‘against’, usually used in construction directions,

13. Butt – when used with ‘in’ meaning ‘to interrupt’ comes through Middle English and Norman French and ultimately from the Germanic group. It shares an etymology with 10.

14. Butt – when used with ‘out’, chiefly North American but (pun intended) becoming more commonplace in other English-speaking countries, meaning ‘desist’ and again shares an etymology with ‘abut’.

15. Butt – when followed by ‘of’ used to refer to an object, such as in ‘the butt of his jokes’ and from a theoretical Proto-Indo-European word reference meaning ‘aim’ but (pun intended) also used in the Germanic group to refer to a ‘stock, block’ as in the Old Scandinavian butr ‘a log of wood’.

16. Butt – a mound behind a target, used to support it and also to prevent the projectile from continuing through and well beyond same. This came to English from Old French but meaning ‘goal’.

17. Butt – as in ‘a shooting range’ but (pun intended) today always used in the plural. It shares an etymology with the previous ‘butt’ in from Old French but meaning ‘goal’.

18. Butt – again a shooting reference but (pun intended) here specifically to the low turf or stone wall at the stand of one shooting grouse.

19. Butt – as in butt-end and a reference to the thickest end of a tool or weapon. This is found in Old English as buttuc where it refers to ‘an end, a small piece of land’.

20. Butt – again sometimes said to be the butt-end and a reference to the stub of a cigarette or cigar. There is no known use in this sense prior to 1847.

21. Butt – as in ‘the remaining part’.

22. Butt – as in the rear end, originating in North America it is becoming more commonplace in other English-speaking countries. It is simply an abbreviated form of ‘buttocks’, itself clearly sharing an origin with 19.

23. Butt – also said to be the butt-end and a reference to the flat end meeting another flat surface, such as a couple of planks.

24. Butt – when used to refer to that part of the trunk of a tree just above the ground. This comes from the Dutch bot meaning ‘stumpy’.

25. Butt – meaning ‘a cask’, a container for ales and wines. This is derived from Old French bout and Latin buttis.

26. Butt – and the name of a flatfish derived from the Middle Low German, Old Swedish and Middle Dutch but. There is also the archaic Buttwoman, in English ‘a fish-wife’ and one who sells fish.

27. Butte – is used to refer to an isolated and steep-sided hill. This comes from French for ‘mound’ and quite easy to see its association with the defensive mound backing a target. Rarely used to mean ‘mound or knoll’ outside of North America by English-speakers, the first record of its use is by Messrs. Lewis and Clark.

So which of these is the origin of the English field name? Answer, none of them. The correct derivation is Old English butt which refers to the unploughed edge to a field or similar. This was not deliberate but a result of ploughing techniques in Saxon times. The power was provided by oxen who pulled the plough across the land. One man would guide the oxen in a straight line, a second held the handles of the plough and his sole task was to ensure the ploughshare cut as deeply into the ground as was required for a good break-up of the soil. Herein lies the problem. The distance between the nose of the oxen and the tip of the ploughshare would always be left unploughed at the end of each furrow. This was the butt.

Yet why can it not be the butt seen in archery? Surely these would have been important features in the landscape and their location known to all? Of course this must be true of a few but (pun intended) not of the vast majority and for two very good reasons.

Firstly the decree did not refer to any archery but (pun intended) specifically to the longbow. The crossbow had been in use in this country for years. It took time to load, was not particularly accurate, nor was it overly powerful. This was not the case with the longbow which made it important to practice one’s skills regularly. Thus the decree could not have been issued before the longbow was used by English forces and the first major conflict was the Hundred Years War against the French and the Battle of Sluys in 1340.

Secondly there is the positioning of the ‘butts’. The archery targets were always within easy sight of the church where the rest of the community were at prayer – hence the arrow marks found on many stones in churchyards where arrowheads had been sharpened. This was to prevent archers from enjoying a break from church instead of practising their skills and many of these butt names are nowhere near within sight of the church.

Finally there is the earliest record of the name. Whilst many records are lost there is more than enough to show the term was in use as a place name or field name well before either the longbow, and its subsequent decree, had come into use. Furthermore the use of ‘butt’ as the defensive mound behind the target is from Old French, and the Norman influence in this country is impossible before they arrived on our shores. The Battle of Hastings was fought on October 14th 1066, any butts prior to this are therefore Saxon butts.

We should also note why church was compulsory and those who failed to turn up incurred an increasingly heavy fine for repeated infringements. This would have little to do with incurring the wrath of any deity – the individual would already be keen to ward off such retribution – more likely it was aimed at those who were already doomed to spend eternity in the other place. Consider this as a time when bells rang out every Sunday to call the community to prayer and everyone attended. Those who missed church had the entire village of empty houses just waiting for the unscrupulous visitor to come calling and remove any valuables they could carry. Also a good reason for making sure the archers were within sight of the church.

Having shown just why the butts are unploughed strips at the edge of the field and nothing to do with archery, perhaps there will not be any further minor disagreements at my talks.

Of course there will.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Capital Cities of Oceania – Etymologically Speaking

Last time I examined the origins of the nations of the continent of Oceania and, as promised, here look at the names of the capital cities. As the nations are much better known than the cities, as previously I have kept the alphabetical order of the countries.

Australia – the capital is Canberra and, although only founded as recently as 1913, the origin of this name is uncertain. However this has not prevented a great deal of speculation and the most common suggestion refers to the old Ngunnawal language in which the name meant ‘woman’s breasts’. This would refer to the nearby Black Mountain and Ainslie Mountain, although a second written account maintains the correct translation is ‘hollow between a woman’s breasts’ and thus referring to the settlement being between the two mountains where Sullivans Creek flows. A third suggestion, and perhaps the most contrived, gives the origin as European. It seems the Australian cranberry proliferated in this area, although locally it was known as the ‘canberry’. It should be noted the only proven original source of the name of the settlement as ‘Canberry’ also happens to be the source of this definition.

Fiji – where the capital has been Suva since 1882. Whilst much has been written about the place there is absolutely no record of the etymology of the name to be found anywhere – unless you know otherwise!

Kiribati – where the capital of South Tarawa derives its name from Kiribati mythology. It seems Nareau the spider created the earth, sea and sky. In doing so he named the sky ‘karawa’ and the ocean ‘marawa’ and then as the god Riiki, also created by Nareau, lifted the sky he noted Riiki was stand on a piece of land which he decided should be known as ‘tarawa’. Nareau then sidled off (assuming spiders ‘sidle’) to create the other islands of Kiribati and those of Samoa.

Marshall Islands – and the capital of Majuro, an Anglicised version of the local name of Majro and one which has evaded all attempts to define it.

Micronesia – where the capital city is Palikir, yet a third name where the origin is unrecorded.

Nauru – where there is no capital city, nor indeed any cities. The centre of government is in the district of Yaren, yet another where the origin is unknown.

New Zealand – and the capital is Wellington, named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington whose name will forever be associated with the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. However the place was not known as such until November 1840 and there had been humans here for centuries. Prior to this and, according to the Maori, to this day Wellington has three names: Te Whangi-nui-a-Tara refers specifically to the harbour and means ‘the great harbour of Tara’; Poneke is the Maori translation of Port Nick or Port Nicholson, the central marae or central religious place of the Maori tribe; and thirdly Te Upoko-o-te-lka-a-Maui meaning ‘the head of the fish of the Maui’, which correctly refers to the entire southernmost region of the North Island. Having failed miserably to define an unacceptable number of capital cities, I did think it appropriate to include as much information on the others as humanly possible. Hence I delight in revealing that New Zealand sign language uses the first three fingers of either hand raised, palm facing, and spread to effectively form the three points of a capital letter ‘W’. The hand is then shaken a little from side to side twice. As always the words are said at the same time as signing to aid those also reading lips.

Palau – Ngerulmud is often said to be the modern capital, this name of one of several villages which comprise the place name of Melekeok. This was the name of the second child of the creator god in local mythology and derived from tekeok ‘openly-boastful’ or ‘stubborn’ or even ‘self-congratulatory’. One would hope no parent would name their child in the hope it would turn out to be an arrogant, egotistical brat but that he earned this name in later life, however here the story is from a creation myth and thus representative and an explanation of human traits.

Papua New Guinea – has the capital city of Port Moresby, where the harbour was explored by the British Captain John Moresby in 1873. Whilst it was named by John, he did not for a moment think of himself but named it in honour of his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.

Samoa – and its capital of Apia, a name which has never been defined.

Solomon Islands – has the capital city of Honiara, an Anglicised version of the original local name of Nagoniara, itself meaning ‘in front of the wind’.

Tonga – where the capital city of Nuku’alofa comes from the Tongan for ‘residence and love’. Just one in fourteen marriages in Tonga end in divorce, compare this to approach half of all marriages in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and perhaps the name is more than suitable. However the real reason is mythological and dates from the time when the Tongan King Mo’ungatonga sent his youngest son Ngata to govern the notorious troubled region of Hihifo. The lad did not travel alone but was accompanied by his uncle Nuku and older cousin Niukapu. None of the three were overjoyed by the task the king had set them and were on the point of abandoning their journey and heading off for Samoa before landing halfway in order to formulate a plan. Eventually the three leaders decided to wrap themselves in a single large mat thus giving the impression of an exceedingly large and fearsome individual having three heads and avoided any confrontation.

Tuvalu – has Funafuti as its capital city, itself named after the founding ancestor from Samoa. One island is named Funafala, a name meaning ‘the pandanus of Funa’, he the chieftain, with the atoll being named Funafuti.

Vanuatu – and Port Vila, a Portuguese name simply meaning ‘port town’.

My apologies for leaving such a large proportion of the names undefined. I contemplated leaving this post for another time but as I have always followed up the etymologies of the countries with the meanings of their respective capital cities (and had said I would do so last time) I decided to press ahead. My dismal failure to define the names of Suva, Majuro, Palikir, Yaren, and Apia, I have written to the respective administrations in the hope they may be able to shed some light on the matter. Should I receive any response I shall update and this post with the relevant details.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Nations of Oceania – Etymologically Speaking

Following on from previous weeks here we tie up the loose ends by examining the last of the continents. A comparatively modern term, only coined in the early nineteenth century, Oceania comes from a Greek word for ‘ocean’, an unusual name for a continent. Just what it comprises depends upon the record consulted but, for our purposes, it is everything in and around the Pacific basin not considered a part of Asia, North America, or South America.

Australia – A country originally known as Terra Australis Incognita or ‘unknown southern land’, this strange name because, perhaps uniquely, it appeared on a 2nd century map some 1,500 years before it was first sighted by Europeans.

Fiji – a name of uncertain meaning but one where the origins are well known. The island group is named from the main island, correctly known as Viti Levu and referred to by the inhabitants discovered by Captain James Cook as simply Viti. It was not the Fijians but the Tongans who knew the place as Fisi, in turn Anglicised as Fiji.

Kiribati – first sighted by Europeans in 1788 and later named by the French after the captain of that earlier vessel. That original captain was Thomas Gilbert, hence the Iles Gilbert or Gilbert Islands. The local name is Tungaru, thought to be after a former chieftain. Yet in a highly unusual turn of events the populace decided to use this local pronunciation of Gilberts, ie Kiribati, to show the group now encompasses other islands originally outside of their group. One of the islands in the group, sighted on Christmas Day and thus named Christmas Island, underwent the identical change and is known by the apparent Gilbertese name of Kiritimati, again the local pronunciation of the European name.

Marshall Islands – In the same year as Gilbert spied the Gilbert Islands, Captain John Marshall explored and mapped what are now known as the Marshall Islands. Not that these islands were unknown in the late eighteenth century, indeed they were first recorded by Europeans as early as 1529 when seen by Spanish navigator Alvarez de Saavedra.

Micronesia – the name of Micronesia, like the name of the continent, is derived from the Greek where micros ‘small’ nesos ‘island’ with ia ‘territory’.

Nauru – the first European to visit the island were the crew of Captain John Fearn’s vessel on a whale hunting voyage in 1798. He referred to this as the Pleasant Island and the name stuck until the twentieth century. The local and current name seems to come from the local language where anaoero means ‘I go to the beach’ and a reference to the twelve tribes which inhabited the place having a culture entirely based on fishing and coconuts.

New Zealand – although associated with Captain James Cook, New Zealand was first sighted by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who called them the Staaten Islands. This means ‘the land of the States’, ie the states of the Netherlands. However Dutch authorities were not impressed and changed the name the following year to Nieuw Zeeland ‘new sea land’ and inspired by the Dutch province of Zeeland. Terrains of the two places could not be more different – the Dutch Zeeland is as flat as it can be which the New Zealand is a mountainous volcanic region.

Palau – this name has come to English through a German version of the Spanish name. Just what this means depends upon which local words is the origin. Two very similar words, with very different meanings, have been suggested – hence this is either beluu or ‘village’ or if aibebelau is a reference to creation mythology.

Papua New Guinea – two former areas united in the modern name. The region of Papua is from a local term but of unknown origin and meaning. The ‘new’ of New Guinea came from Ortiz de Rez, a Portuguese explorer who consider the inhabitants similar in appearance to those he met in Guinea, West Africa.

Samoa – French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville named them the Navigator Islands in 1768. However the local name has always been Samoa, a reference to the large, now extinct, flightless birds which once inhabited the islands around here and named as ‘the place of moa’.

Solomon Islands – discovered and named in 1567 by Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mandana de Neyra. Having met the natives and the gold ornaments they wore, he jumped to the conclusion this must be the legendary land of Ophir where, according to the Bible in Kings 1 chapter 9 verse 28, the gold was brought to King Solomon. It does instantly beg the question as to why he did not simply call them the Ophir Islands.

Tonga – in the many dialects and related tongues of Polynesia the word tonga means simply ‘south’, an apt description of these, the southernmost group of these islands.

Tuvalu –a group of nine islands settled by migrating humans some 3,000 years ago. Yet only eight were ever inhabited, hence the local tongue refers to them as ‘eight standing together’, a reference to the separate communities united by constant travel and trade by canoe.

Vanuatu – a local name derived from vanua ‘land’ or perhaps ‘home’ with tu ‘stand’, a reference to this new nation’s independence.

As previously the capital cities of each nation will be examined next time.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Asian Capital Cities – Etymologically speaking (M to Z)

Following on from last week a look at the origins of the capital cities of the Asian countries. Again I shall use the alphabetical order of the nations, as it makes it easier to compare the two and as the names of the capital cities will not be as well known.

Malaysia – where Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, a name from the Malay tongue referring to its location at the mouth of the River Kelang with kuala lumpur telling of ‘the estuary of mud’.

Maldives – the capital of Dhivehi shares an origin with the name of Maldives. Here Sanskrit dwipa is understood as ‘islanders’.

Mongolia – until 1924 the capital was known as Urga, a Mongolian name meaning ‘abode, place’. Since then it has been Ulan Bator, again from the Mongolian where ulan ‘red’ bator ‘warrior’ honours the founder of the modern republic in 1911. Dandimy Suhbataar (1893-1923) was born at, what was then, Urga.

Myanmar – has the capital city Nay Pyi Taw, which translates as either ‘royal capital’, seat of the king’ or ‘abode of kings’.

Nepal – the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu comes from the native language where kath mandir describes ‘the wooden temple’. This a reference to the temple said to have been constructed from the wood of a single tree by Raja Lachmina Singh in 1596.

Oman – Muscat’s origins are uncertain and have a number of suggested meanings. Perhaps this is Arabic from moscha and describes ‘an inflated hide or skin’; there are others who suggest this is ‘where to drop anchor’; maybe this is Old Persian meaning ‘strong-scented’; or other Arabic words giving ‘falling-place’ or even ‘hidden’.

Pakistan – the capital of Islamabad means ‘the capital of Islam’, the suffix abad Iranian for ‘city’.

Palestine – while the nation claims Jerusalem, the de facto capital is Ramallah. Here is a combination of Aramaic ram meaning ‘high place’ or ‘mountain’ with Allah being the Arabic for God.

Philippines – the capital is Manila, originally recorded as Maynilad, from the native Tagalog may ‘to be’ and nila ‘indigo’. This is understood as ‘the place where there is indigo’.

Qatar – the capital city of Doha either comes from the Arabic Ad-Dawha or ‘the big tree’, a marker for the original fishing village and possibly used as a marker by the fishermen, or from dohat the Arabic word for ‘bay’ where the fisherman cast their nets.

Russia – and Moscow is named after the River Moskva. The river name has a number of possible meanings depending upon the language: Salvonic Moskva gives ‘damp, marshy’; Slavonic mostkva results in ‘bridge water’; and Finno-Ugrian moska va would describe ‘the ford where calves are seen’.

Saudi Arabia – where the capital of Riyadh is a corruption of the Arabic Ar-Riyad and means ‘the grassland’. Anyone who has seen the area here will know there has not been grass here in recorded history and thus the name seems to have been ironic – much as the island of Greenland is nearly all glaciers.

Singapore – as a city-state the capital city is the state of Singapore, hence the meaning of ‘lion town’, understood as ‘strong town’ from Sanskrit singa pura is also applicable.

Sri Lanka – where Columbo is probably a Portuguese name derived from the Sinhalese name of Kolon thota meaning ‘the port on the river Kelani’. There are also those who maintain this is Sinhalese Kola-amba-thota or ‘the harbour with leafy mango trees.

Syria – where Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and thus has one of the oldest names. Thus it is no surprise to learn the origin of the name is uncertain and has a number of suggested meanings including ‘dwelling’, ‘a well-watered place’, ‘the land of the Levant’ or simply ‘industrious’.

Tajikistan – where the capital of Dushanbe may not be the best-known city in the world, but certainly should be lauded for having an origin describing the development of the place. Dushanbe is a Tajik word meaning ‘Monday’ and named such as this was the site of a marketplace held on Mondays. Possibly even more interesting is the origin of the Tajik word for ‘Monday’, where du ‘two’ went with shanbe ‘Saturday’ and thus Monday is described as ‘the second day after Saturday’.

Thailand – has its capital of Bangkok, a name thought to come from bang ‘village’ or ‘district’ with makok ‘wild plums’. However the Thai people call this Krung Threp the ‘city of angels’.

Timor – where the capital city id Dili. Settled by the Portuguese, who first recorded this name, it was not named by them but would seem to be a Portuguese version of an existing name. However it is impossible to define the name with any certainty until we know the original language. Having said that, and I do not offer this as an origin, it seems every potential avenue I explored were linked and had a theme suggesting the name meant ‘contemplation’, ‘thought’, ‘consider’ and other synonyms. Hence with tongue very firmly in cheek I wondered if the answer to “What is the name of this place?” could have been ‘we are still thinking about it’.

Turkey – another ancient name and one which perhaps came from a Phrygian ank ‘angled, crooked’ maybe a reference to the gorge. The Arabic name is Qal’at as-Salasil or ‘the fortress of chains’.

Turkmenistan – where we find Ashgabat, which links Turkmenian iskh ‘pleasant’ and Iranian abad ‘town’.

United Arab Emirates – where the capital city is Abu Dhabi and a known meaning of ‘father of deer’ the reason for the name is not so clear. Bedouins refer to this as Umm Dhabi or ‘mother of deer’, while the original name was Milh meaning ‘salt’, a reference to the salt marshes around the city.

Uzbekistan – where Tashkent comes from Turkish tash ‘stone’ and Iranian kent ‘town’.

Vietnam – where Hanoi describes itself as ‘surrounded by a river’, although this has only been the name since the nineteenth century. Prior to this the city was known as Kecho meaning simply ‘capital’.

Yemen – where the capital of Sana’a is one of the oldest inhabited places in history, legend has it founded by Shem, the son of Noah. The current name comes from the Arabian word for ‘well-fortified’, while the earliest name was Azal, said to be after Uzal, son of Qahtan and great-grandson of Shem.

On the subject of place names, places much nearer to home, two new books out this week. Both published by Sigma Press I am delighted to see County Durham Place Names and Northumberland Place Names on the shelves.